Giving Back for the Holidays

Meghan Dietsche Goel -- November 17th, 2017

Merrilee displays one of the hundreds of snowflakes she cuts every year.

Putting up our Giving Tree is a tradition that marks the beginning of our in-store holiday season. Inspired by the legendary Giving Tree program run by Carol Chittenden, former owner of Eight Cousins bookstore in Falmouth, Mass., our tree allows our customers to celebrate the holiday by giving books to those who need them the most. We fill the branches with hand-cut snowflakes tagged with kids’ names or book requests, depending on the featured organizations, and then our customers select and donate gifts to match. It’s an endeavor that I look forward to every year.

Our tree evolves based on our partners, so the format shifts from year to year. Sometimes organizations submit lists of specific kids whose first names and ages we print on snowflakes. Customers choose a name, select a gift, and leave it to be wrapped with the personalized snowflake as a one-of-a-kind gift tag. Sometimes, like this year, our snowflakes feature book requests from local high-impact nonprofits that we support.

BookSpring, a literacy organization that benefits over 40,000 kids a year through readathons, book ownership initiatives, pediatric literacy outreach, and programs in classrooms, libraries, and early childhood centers around Central Texas. The kits they send out are truly adorable and make the experience of reading irresistibly fun. Their Teddy Bear Picnic kit, for instance, featured local author Carmen Oliver’s Bears Make the Best Reading Buddies, and came with a picnic blanket and food, teddy bears and songs, and books for the kids to keep forever. For the second year, we will be collecting targeted donations for the specific titles needed for use in their upcoming educational programs and activity kits.

We’re also partnering for the first time with Carrying Hope, founded in 2016 by foster parents who saw kids arriving at their doors with nothing to get them through those first crucial days of transition. Equipping kids entering the foster care system with age-appropriate backpacks filled with basic necessities like diapers, formula, or toothbrushes, Carrying Hope also includes stuffed animals, toys, and books that offer kids comfort as well as the security that comes from having treasures of their very own. In just a year, they have made a big difference, providing over 1,000 Hope Packs to CPS and local foster care agencies. And we want to help them do more, stocking their packs with some of the books we and our customers love the most.

We’re readying the tree this week. And while I love the annual focus on giving back, thinking of others and supporting our community isn’t just a holiday thing. That’s why we’re thrilled about our new year-round middle grade book club launched in partnership with Austin Allies, a group dedicated to helping families volunteer together and connect with the community. The focus of the club is on books that expand readers’ points of view and foster empathy, which is something great books do naturally. As readers, we know that books expand our hearts and our horizons, letting us walk in someone else’s shoes and see through their eyes for a little while. The book group recently helped us host an event with Katherine Applegate for Wishtree, and we put our Giving Tree to wonderful use, fillings its branches with strings of wishes from the attendees. The wishes (as wishes are wont to do) ranged from practical to whimsical to profound. As one young member of the book club wisely noted, “People sometimes want things they know they could never have, but it still helps if they say it to someone out loud. It gives them hope.”

So on that note, here’s to a holiday season filled with books, empathy, and hope!

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